SALT LAKE CITY - State lawmakers are conflicted when it comes to addressing Utah's growing transportation needs.
They know they need to generate more revenue for roads and bridges, but are conflicted by the idea of passing any mechanism to generate that revenue, including a possible hike in the gasoline tax.
Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, says the conflict can't be kicked down the road much further.
"Within a year or so we're going to have something and nobody's going to like it. I sense everybody is realizing where we're at," Van Tassell said.
The state's Unified Transportation Plan to 2040 has identified $54 billion in needed maintenance and road and transit projects. At existing levels state officials estimate the state would have an $11 billion shortfall to meet those needs.
One proposal raised earlier this year is legislation to give counties the ability to impose a 3 percent fuel tax, with revenues going to cities and towns in their counties. The state's gas tax has not been raised for 17 years and growth and more efficient vehicles have increased needs, and diminished the revenue stream to address those needs.
Representatives from the business community spoke against that plan on Wednesday, suggesting it could create a patchwork of taxation, which would leave little room for the state to find money to address its transportation needs.
Dave Davis, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, said state leaders need to consider a uniform tax rate across the state.
But what is that uniform approach? Lawmakers are not only concerned about a potential increase in the gas tax, they have also warned about trying to raise the sales tax rate to address the problem.
The local option is not the only tax increase on the table addressing transportation.
Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, said he is ready to throw another couple of options into the mix, with bills proposing a tax increase on all fuels, including compressed natural gas, and another measure indexing the fuel tax. Nielson's bill would raise the tax on fuel from 24.5 cents per gallon to 26 cents on July 1, 2014 and then raise it another 1 1/2 cents each year until 2018. It would also add a half-cent increase each year to the cost of CNG over a six-year period.
Nielson estimates his plan would generate an additional $22 million in revenue in its first year.
The Bountiful Republican admits he may be sticking his neck out in pushing the tax increases.
"I'm hopeful we can further the conversation. If I can take a few arrows to further the conversation I'm happy to do it," Nielson said.
Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, who is co-chair of the interim transportation committee, said the original outline was to use the 2013 interim session, to find out what the needs are and will be, and then the 2014 interim session to discuss how to fund those needs. That would suggest any potential tax increase would be deferred until the legislative session in 2015.
But the discussion still has some lawmakers hedging on the question
Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, was asked if he thought the Legislature would pass a gas tax in 2014. He didn't close the door to its probability, but suggested it would be difficult.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, a veteran of more than three decades in the Legislature has predicted no tax increase will be passed in 2014, unless it is pushed by Gov. Gary Herbert. He also noted it will be tough to get a tax hike passed in an election year.